Right : Wayne Bassett and Emma Skelton. Photo by SuziQ
by Brian Friel
Room to Play
Directed byHeidi Manche
Substation Theatre New Arts Space
150 Enoggera Terrace
Season: 15-18 October. Tickets: Full $25, Concession & Groups (6+) $20. Bookings: http://tix.yt/afterplay
This was the opening night of a new independent theatre company - Room to Play - in a new theatre space – and an interesting one it is too. It is in the Paddington Tramways Substation, a heritage-listed former electrical substation. Since 1985, community arts group Hands On Art have worked in the building providing art classes for children and adults as well as giving local artists somewhere to display their art.
On top of that it is also a café.
It looked like a cafe when we arrived for the show. People were sitting around table outside sipping wine and vodka. Inside stack chairs were spread around the small space in front of a tiny rostrum that served as a stage. On the stage were a table and a couple of café chairs.
It was certainly something different. There was a full house for the opening of award-winning Irish dramatist’s Brian Friel’s one act play, Afterplay. It was directed by founder of Room To Play productions Heidi Manchė.
Friel’s one hour long play pulls two of Chekhov’s characters: Sonya, Uncle Vanya’s niece and Andrey, the brother of The Three Sisters and brings them together after a 20 year interval.
They meet by chance in a late night cafe in 1920s Moscow. Andrey professes to be a concert violinist who is rehearsing for La Boheme at the Moscow Opera House while Sonya is an estate owner fighting for her rights. She is also is still hopelessly in love with the local doctor as she was in the past.
The pair, played by Emma Skelton and Wayne Bassett, hesitantly remembers each other from a precious meeting and slip into conversation. Each has a story to tell and each embellish the truth a lot, particularly Andrey.
Then Sonya opens up a bottle of vodka and the pair becomes slowly drunk, making confessions, flirting and almost creating romance. But it is obvious that the two of them are far removed from reality.
Emma Skelton was assured as Sonya and was a convincing Russian vodka drinker; she became loud but not staggering drunk. She was a girl obviously used to drinking hard and often.
Wayne Bassett’s Andrey began well. He was nervous about accosting Sonya and he told his tales with a lot of nervous chuckles. But instead of the character becoming more confident, the nervousness remained and finally became irritating.
There needs to be more development of character.
The play is a good one and very well costumed; it kept me intrigued despite sitting on one of the most uncomfortable chairs I’ve experienced in a theatre. There was no way I could have watched a two-act play!
The stage would have benefited with the addition of a second rostrum to give the audience a better view of the action, which I believe will be rectified immediately. There are plans too for better seating and an expansion of the space.
I’m quite sure that the company will find its niche. Heidi Manche is an experienced theatre worker. She studied theatre in Sydney and at ‘La Sapienza’ University in Rome, where she worked alongside Nobel laureate Dario Fo.
In Italy, she was trained in Commedia dell’arte and Theatre of the Oppressed. Heidi translated many of Dario Fo’s texts into English and joined a Roman theatre troupe, Stalker, touring throughout Italy. Back in Australia, she become part of a Commedia troupe in Sydney and founded an independent theatre, The Crypt Theatre.
She moved to Brisbane where she founded Brisbane Youth Theatre and Room to Play which recently toured to the Melbourne Fringe Festival with Ionesco’s The Bald Prima Donna. She also recently directed Dario Fo’s, The Virtuous Burglar to a sell-out season in Brisbane.